Second Dead

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Chapter 15: Interlude

“Now we can leave,” became the mantra for the day. Every time we loaded something, we said it. All morning we packed supplies. Mom, George, and Laura, busied themselves in the kitchen cooking rice for the journey.

“Sticky rice,” Mom explained. “This will hold up well on our journey. Besides, it’s the rice of good fortune.”

Flush with the spirit of the day, I just let it fucking go.

George spooned rice onto a piece of stretch wrap. Laura pushed the rice flat while Mom put canned tuna on top and finished it off with a dash of soy sauce.

“Rice burgers,” George said while he wrapped one.

After lunch Dad called a meeting, destined to be our last here on Lucky Lane. “Still have clothes and weapons to pack. Everyone gets one trash bag so make it count. For your backpack, bring just the essentials, survival gear only. As far as the weapons go, we’ll divvy those up this afternoon.

“First, we’ll go over our travel plans one last time,” Dad said, greeted by loud groans.

He passed out maps Susan had traced from the original. He also handed out plastic sandwich bags.

“When we’re done, I want you to bag your map and seal it up tight. From now on until we reach the farm, don’t let your map leave your person. Got that?”

Dad led the recital. He made everyone trace the route we were to take while we intoned what we now referred to as the travel song.

“Up to Mel, three right turns, down Hancock Place, right on MacArthur, past the mall, under the highway, left onto the railroad tracks, across the river,” on and on we droned.

“Oh hey, a smiley face,” Laura whispered to George mid way through our recital.

Dad glowered at Laura. George sniggered. I glanced at the twins and then down at my map. I noticed it too. Children are amazing. They could find something wonderful in the most mundane tasks.

“Knock it off. This is serious.” Dad glared at the twins. Laura and George cleared the smiles and resumed the somber recital.

I grinned at the twins, then found my place on the map and continued until we reached the farm. Satisfied, Dad folded his map and put it away. He watched the rest of us bag our maps and tuck them in our clothes.

“Okay, second order of business.” Dad frowned at Theo. “Think you got it, son?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Chris and me have been practicing on your old Cutlass.”

When Larry closed his gas station, he locked his wrecker in the service garage. Several weeks ago, Theo discovered the tow truck in the back service bay. Although Larry left his truck, the keys he did not leave.

“You’re sure the wires are the same?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, pretty sure. I’ve checked vehicles on our raids and they’ve been the same.”

Dad gave Theo one last glance, then relaxed. A little. “Good, let’s get the clothes packed up and put away.”

“Dad, can I take some books?” Susan asked.

He thought for a moment. “Yeah, go ahead, but only a few.”

“When we get done,” Dad raised his voice to be heard over the scraping chairs, “We’ll meet back here to divvy the weapons up.”

***

I gave my backpack one last inspection. I pulled out a notebook my mother gave me months ago. The book seemed important to her and she passed it on with a request I keep it safe. At the time I just packed it away and forgot about it. Mom had translated it from a small, well-worn brown book she took to reading after Nana’s death.

I flipped through the handwritten pages and realized the book was about Vietnam’s ancient history. I turned to the first page and received a shock when I read the top line. Property of Nguyen Máy Màn, age seven. My Nana. After scanning the pages, I deduced it to be a short history of the school she had attended in Vietnam. Thinking it might make for a light read, I stuffed it back into my bag.

Mom wanted to keep it as a family heirloom I guess. Keepsakes to treasure, much like Theo with his father’s watch. Not so silly after all.

With our survival bags and clothes packed, we took a break. Most of the furniture was gone so we had plenty of space in the bedroom. The mattresses were downstairs and the bed frames long gone for firewood.

Klara sat by herself while she wrote her missive to Kevin on a two- foot by three-foot piece of cardboard. She took Mom at her word about the size of the note.

Susan moved about the room, searching for mementos to take. She pulled a schoolbook from the closet, flipped through the pages and exclaimed, “Ohh, hey look. I love this. Anna, you have to take this with you. I spent ten dollars on it.”

“You spent ten bucks on a bookmark?” Theo scoffed.

“Oh yeah. It has a cool yin and yang design I really liked.” She held it up for everyone to see. Red and about twice the size of a regular bookmark, it had one yin and yang circle on each side.

“Annabel, here,” she said.

“Yeah sure.” I took the red card and stuck it in my pocket. I remembered why I had hid it. To call it damn ugly did ugly a disservice.

Mom walked into the room and stared around with a frown, then softened a bit. I guess the scene reminded her of better times.

“Let’s go. We have to take care of the weapons,” she said.

Klara was by far the gun expert among us, so Dad asked her to do a final training session. Klara had privately instructed Susan on the weapons, who in turn tried to get us familiar with their operation and care.

Since Klara had just opened up to us, she had not been involved before. However, she had watched us practice under Susan’s tutelage. Klara went through each gun in our arsenal and assigned weapons to the person she felt handled it best. She matched weapons with the right ammunition and with final instructions handed them out.

Both twins received their own .22 rifles. Klara told them the guns had belonged to her when she had been their age. She gave Susan a .308 rifle equipped with the best scope from the Bulger’s arsenal. This only made sense; she outclassed even Klara as the best shot in our group.

“Here, Annabel.” Klara gave me a Colt .45. “I bought this with my own money. The first gun I ever owned.”

Klara handed me an assault rifle, pulled me close and whispered, “This rifle’s yours. I offered it to Mr. Wallis but he didn’t take it. I wanted to give you a scoped rifle. I watched and you have the mechanics of aiming down real good. I hate to say it, but I don’t trust your brother or boyfriend with this one.”

I choked, then scoffed, “He wishes.”

“Ohh,” Klara mouthed wide-eyed. “It’s just, that’s what Susan told me.”

Klara showed me how to load and ready the weapon for action. She explained, “It’s an AR-15 military assault rifle. Pa fixed it up with illegal magazines. So you have plenty of firepower.”

After I demonstrated I could operate it, she smiled and collected her weapons.

“Listen up,” Dad said. “Gather your weapons and stow them in the living room.”

Chris and Theo gawked at my rifle. I swung the weapon over my shoulder and not able to stop myself, flashed the birdie. Not fast enough to go unnoticed by Dad.

“Knock it off, Anna,” he snapped.

After our weapons were stowed, Dad said, “Okay, Anna, you can go first.”

“For what?” I asked, nervous. Going first was never good.

“Your mom wants to cut everyone’s hair before we leave.”

I glanced into the kitchen. Sure enough, Mom had set up a stool and her best scissors were out. The boys complained at the prospect of a haircut. For me, it couldn’t happen soon enough. I sat on the stool and Mom wrapped an apron around my neck. She tried to comb my hair without too much fuss, but she struggled and I winced in pain.

“Your hair’s so knotted up. You should brush it every day like Susan and Laura,” she chided.

Yeah, right. “Mom, I--” Damn the water was cold. She used a spray bottle to wet my hair while she tried to comb the knots out.

“Sorry, Annabel.” She giggled when I jumped.

I decided against trying to get her to cut my hair the way I wanted. She always cut it the way she liked anyway.

While Mom worked on my hair, Dad, Chris, and Theo walked past either headed for the garage or returning. The extra weapons, ammunition and some other items we hadn’t thought about earlier were now being located and stowed. As the men walked back and forth, they left the door open. Soon I shivered from the cold.

“Annabel, be still,” Mom fussed.

I got fed up and yelled into the garage, “Close the door, you’re letting the heat in.”

“Sorry, Anna,” Dad said when they reentered the kitchen. “We’re done now.”

Theo, never one to miss an opportunity to be a jerk, stopped. “Hmm, not bad, Mrs. Wallis.” He paused. The baboon appeared thoughtful for a moment. Mr. Bird’s- nest- for- a- face grinned like an idiot, pointed at my face and said, “I think you missed a spot.”

“Oh, you shush and get out of here,” Mom scolded.

I kicked out. My toes just missed his shin.

Theo grinned, scooted past and muttered, “All your hard work wasted. What a shame.”

“Don’t listen to him, Bel dear, you’re a beautiful woman,” Mom soothed absent-mindedly while she finished with my hair.

Tears welled up in my eyes. Here we were in the kitchen, Mom and me, like old times. Once again, I was Bel dear. Maybe she had forgiven me, came to realize it wasn’t my fault. Perhaps it was possible to go back to the way things used to be between us.

Lost in my thoughts, I barely heard her say, “Okay, Annabel, you’re all done.”

I crashed back to reality and didn’t give her time to brush the hair off me. I yanked the apron from my neck, tossed it onto the stool, and hurried out of the kitchen. I rushed past Susan and Dad and sat down at the fireplace.

No longer able to hold back the tears, I pulled my knees to my chest, wrapped my arms around my legs, and bowed my head. It was all so unfair. If I’d been faster, if I’d been doing my job, Chet would be alive. Everyone knew it. I rocked back and forth. Oh, how I wish they would just say it. Hurl their recriminations at me, expel me from the family, surely I deserved as much.

Someone put wood on the fire, and then that someone sat down next to me.

“Anna, look at me.”

I turned toward Dad but avoided eye contact.

“What’s the matter, Anna; is it something your mom said?”

“No, it’s just. I-- she. No, she didn’t do anything wrong.”

Dad put his arm around me and drew me close. I wiped my tears with the sleeve of my shirt.

“Listen to me, Anna. You know your mom says things she doesn’t mean, uses words incorrectly.”

“Dad, it’s not that.”

“Anna, you’ve got to stop beating yourself up. It happened, and nothing’s going to bring him back. You know how Chet was, always ready to help people. He just--” Dad faltered.

“But Mom--”

“Doesn’t blame you,” Dad emphasized each word. “Nobody blames you, except you.”

I let his words sink in. “Thanks, Dad.”

I opened my eyes when Chris and Theo stomped up the steps. I turned my gaze to the ceiling so they, so Theo, couldn’t see I’d been crying.

“Hey, I didn’t bring all this hot water up so it could go cold,” Theo exclaimed.

I turned my gaze from the ceiling. Both carried two buckets of steaming hot water.

Dad stood up. “Go take a bath, Anna. A real bath. A hot bath.”

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